Wield the camera but wield it well, it can be just as much of a weapon as any knife or gun. A Brixton Tale, featured in the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival warns of the damage a filmmaker can do to their subject whilst also tackling social class and racism in Britain today.
At first the film unwinds as a coming-of-age romance, yet even from the opening scenes it subtly asks what it is to film and what it is to be filmed. Clutching her camcorder at all times is Leah, played by a constantly despondent looking Lily Newmark. From the distance she has with all the other characters, we get a sense that she spends all of her time behind the camera and very little of it being part of the action. However, shooting around a nearby council estate she encounters Archie (Craig Middleburg), a scatty and explosive ginger who contrasts to his more subdued friend Benji (Ola Orebiyi). Leah begins to follow them around with her camera, capturing their everyday actions. Sharing cigarettes and beers, Leah and Benji soon fall for each other but the film Leah produces, the reason they first met, divides them.
The performances are very natural. Orebiyi especially shines as Benji, believably showing the switch between the hard exterior he must show on the estate to earn respect, and the compassion and kindness he has for his mother and for his friend Archie. We get a sense he is very soft at heart, this feeling captured just from Orebiyi’s eyes. This softness produces beautiful chemistry with Leah, especially in the delicately handled intimate scenes. However, it is not the softness that Leah presents when making her short film, but a steely harshness, the stereotype of what a young black man living in these circumstances is, which is lapped up by her white and privileged audience. It is a reminder that how something is presented to us is more important than what itself is being presented.
A Brixton Tale underlines just how much the camera can hide. Sometimes all we are given to see is the footage recorded on Leah’s camcorder, which frames our line of vision and perceptions. Scenes are hidden away from us in an almost Shakespearean way, leaving us to imagine the violence that is not captured on screen as Leah’s hand slips whilst filming. Camcorder or amateur footage can, in other films, jar with footage from a normal camera or take away sincerity. However, the large amount of it used in the first half of the film flows seamlessly into the scenes shot on a professional video camera. The camcorder footage initially creates a sense of intimacy both with its subjects and with its filmmaker Leah, but later stresses Leah’s insufficient understanding of social class and inequality in modern Britain.
Social class is central to A Brixton Tale. So much of it is filmed on location in and around Barrier Block and Somerleyton Estate in Brixton. The longshots of the looming tower blocks bring a sense of claustrophobia which is further heightened with shooting inside Benji’s small flat. He is literally and metaphorically trapped in the estate and his social class. The tower blocks also serve as a harsh contrast to the more gently shot leafy green neighbourhood that Leah comes from.
The United Kingdom remains divided by race, this is a fact. Systemic and institutional racism permeates every level of society but is even more noticeable when coupled with the pervasive class system and the inequality that has grown from years of austerity and government inaction. A Brixton Tale captures and confronts this inequality for all to see.
Image: A Brixton Tale via www.abrixtontale.com